I got a new job this past weekend.
We are getting close to starting the ceiling. (I know, I’ve been saying that for a month now…) So this weekend we had the lovely task of taking down everything that touched the ceiling. That would be:
- the obtrusive wall cabinet where all our food and dishes were stored;
- the ugly fake wood moulding around the windows;
- the horrible fluorescent light fixture above the windows; and
- the two-by-four that was nailed into the ceiling where the old wall used to be.
All those objects are now kaput. When the dark cabinet came off the wall, the whole kitchen lightened up! It was even better than we had hoped — who would have thought an ugly green wall with holes and stains would look so beautiful?
Oh yes, my new job…Windows. The windows in the kitchen are old wood double-hung windows with panes (in today’s terminology — true divided lights). They don’t match exactly, but you have to be my husband to notice. The really old window has wibbly wobbly glass, but they both are original to the house. That means they have been painted many times. The inside has four coats: white, sage green, mint green, and orange. The orange coat was then antiqued. Does that make five coats? I’m not sure. The paint is dried and cracked, and the window sill was always dirty with the little paint leavings that were chipping off the muntins.
So one window of the two has been taken down, in two pieces, and is now back in the sanding department. I had just cleaned up the sanding porch in anticipation of priming and painting ceiling boards, and now it has become the sanding porch once again…
It is fitting that I am in charge of renewing these windows because I am the one who wanted to keep them. Back last winter when I was reading Jane Powell’s Bungalow Kitchens, I read to Michael her opinions on old windows. She loves them (big surprise!) and believes that the American home-owning public has been sold a bill of goods (by window manufacturers, installers, and big box stores) about the R-value of new windows. She believes that a properly fitted and sealed window, with a storm window on the outside, is just as good as any window we can buy new. (If anyone can seal these old windows, Michael can figure it out.)
He didn’t agree; he still doesn’t. But we looked at new windows. They are either ugly or prohibitively expensive. They look new. They look modern. The cottage is neither.
On the outside of the windows there are just two coats of paint: white and dark green. The exterior paint is actually easier to sand off than the inside. The old paint is weathered and easily chips off. I scraped first, then sanded. There’s plenty of time to think while sanding — and that green paint I’m sanding off is probably what my grandfather painted on the windows many years ago! It is forties dark green, and my goodness, is it ever stuck on those windows! The sander gets hot and that dark green paint bubbles up in lumps before it comes off.
Michael came out to the porch in mid-afternoon to see how it was going. “Well,” I answered, “there are two sides to every window…”
Yes. Inside and outside, there’s been a lot of looking through those windows. Seasons passing — life being lived inside and outside. I know both the women who have lived in this house. It used to be that people lived outside more than we do now. There was a pump under that big tree where Aunt Mary drew water — every day, probably more than once. She had a big farm sink in front of those windows where apples were cleaned and peeled and sliced, hands were washed, a little boy’s knees were mended, meals were prepared, dishes were washed, and probably tears were shed. I think women cry while doing dishes — when they are alone and can just let the tears fall into the dishwater. Clara changed the kitchen sink to stainless steel, but the cold of a silver sink catches tears just as well as porcelain. Her husband Joe died while she was living there, and left her a widow in the country, rambling around in a house that I’m not sure she loved.
Clara told the story of Joe coming home and announcing that he was thinking of buying the orchard, and how would she like to move? When they went to see the cottage, Aunt Mary was there and not particularly welcoming to the people who would be buying her house. She had lived there for thirty plus years and was now going to have to move to an apartment in town. Clara was moving from the house where she had lived for almost twenty years, the house they had built, the house where she had raised her family, to a cottage in the country that needed repairing. Two women, two kitchen sink windows — what stories those windows tell.
We originally thought we would add a third window to let in more light. My window. But then we looked from the outside and realized that the two windows are perfectly balanced under the clipped gable of the roof, and a third window would destroy the symmetry of the cottage. So I am scraping, stripping, and sanding these two kitchen windows. And I will be painting them too. Those muntins between the panes are hard work, but I am being careful. Careful to respect the life, the love, the joys, the sorrows that they have seen. I won’t have my own window, but I will have put my sweat into the two original old wooden double-hung windows that are there. Still.